Monday, 10 November 2008

Wei Liao’s funeral inside Sydney Olympic Park’s Badgery Pavilion was uneventful and oddly moving. Hundreds of mourners, mainly Chinese students, came to hear a string of speakers pay tribute to a 19 year old girl who died after falling off a Waterloo apartment block.

Wu Liping, Liao’s mother, spoke while I was outside eating a pie. The food stand underneath the awning of the Sydney Showground stood opposite.

I was also thankful for the toilets. Homebush is a good half hour’s drive from the city.

I didn’t hear Mrs Wu speak. I could hear her voice ooze from speakers mounted on the pavilion’s exterior. It echoed about the frontage where two gigantic hearses from Simplicity Funerals waited for the white casket to emerge from the dimly lit and cavernous interior.

The pie was good. I’d already stood for an hour and listened to a handful of people talk. Everyone watching was silent, respectful. I listened to Andrew Ferguson, general secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union address the dead girl’s parents. They nodded as he told them how, when a construction worker died, it was customary to pass around the hat in support of surviving family.

They nodded several times. They didn’t nod when Prof. Gang Bai spoke. Bai is a consul of the People’s Republic.

Some observers sang along when the Buddhist priest sang. Although this part was mournful, and although Prof. Bai thanked the NSW Police for catching the perpetrator, the feeling inside the pavilion, with its exposed steel struts and blue carpet squares, was slightly surreal as if a more suitable venue had not been found.

And although the pie was decent (despite being five dollars), missing Mrs Wu was a mistake, though not a deadly one.

Immediately prior to her, the head of Taylors College spoke. This no doubt decent man verged on deadly. In fact it was his nerveless delivery that brought on exhaustion and caused me to look for sustenance.

He mentioned how important it was for students to find friends. He didn’t mention how badly this incident had hurt Australia’s reputation for safety.

The press has also been silent on this issue. Or nearly silent.

Liao’s story had been in the press for a week or so before 31 October, when Dylan Welch’s The Sydney Morning Herald story appeared with accompanying photos of Mrs Wu and her husband. About the same time news of the funeral ceremony appeared in Chinese language papers.

It was at this time that we had dropped off flowers at the Macevoy Street apartment block.

It is an isolated and lonely modern block nestled against a very busy stretch of a busy road. Not a good place to live if safety is a concern. The same night, in Pyrmont, a friend’s friend had been burgled.

No harm beyond a missing passport and other discomforts, though the police invited her to the station for questions the next day.

My friend had wanted to go to the ceremony so we left the CBD at 10am on Saturday and were parking on Australia Avenue, in Homebush, half an hour later.

After feeding the meter we walked to the pavilion. But nothing here - this sterile hall with its bland carpet, people from the Buddhist society dressed in identical yellow shirts and white pants, funeral parlour employees slinging walkie-talkies and in identical black suits - could tell you how this unfortunate girl died.

The mystery at the heart of the story is whether she committed suicide or not. Having been raped twice we find her on the balcony. Her Korean boyfriend also fell but sustained only a broken hip and legs.

If Liao died escaping why did she die and not him? If she was trying to die why isn’t it in the papers?

The question is not seriously asked. Possibly it has something to do with Prof. Bai’s long retelling of the story with its silent admonishment of New South Wales society hidden in notices of “measures” taken at various institutions.

Possibly it has something to do with the fact that Mrs Wu’s new husband - Liao’s stepfather - is young and handsome.

Possibly it’s just that the shame would be too much for the Chinese community to accept. Which is a shame because it’s better to know the full truth in such cases. It will mean a lot when the time comes to writing and printing stories about the trial.

The Chinese community has come together in this instance. It’s a good thing. But too much solidarity only makes things uncertain for the future.

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